Character in Cinema
While many elements go into making a good movie, characterization may be the most important of those elements. Characterization is the way that the personality of a character is revealed in a movie, and involves many different ways of revealing the personality of the character being portrayed in the film. Characterization can be direct or indirect. Direct characterization occurs when someone in a film, usually an omniscient narrator, describes one of the characters in the play. While this direct characterization is not always reliable, it does provide direct evidence of a person’s character. Indirect characterization is not always as easy to interpret as direct characterization. Indirect characterization involves a combination of different elements than contribute to the overall perception of the character. Indirect characterization requires the audience to draw conclusions about the character being portrayed. Of course, the risk with indirect characterization is that the audience will draw the wrong conclusion about the character.
Direct characterization is less common in film than in books. That is because direct characterization usually involves the voice of a narrator describing the character in question. While it is not impossible for a narrator to appear in films, it is unusual, which means that most movies do not employ direct characterization. The comments of non-narrator other characters about a character are not direct characterization, if there is nothing in the film to suggest that those characters have some type of special insight. Instead, those comments would reflect the character’s interaction with others. Therefore, most films lack direct characterization. In addition, direct characterization may suffer from the fact that the narrators can be unreliable. Therefore, while direct characterization may have the benefit that the audience is directly given the information about the character, they have to understand the narrator in order to properly interpret that information.
Because of the problems with direct characterization, most character development in modern films is the result of indirect characterization. Indirect characterization is what the audience can observe about the character without being directly told things about the character. For example, in the movie Grease, the audience does not have to be told that Danny is a greaser; his combination of leather jacket and jeans reveal that information about him. The five types of indirect characterization include: speech, thoughts, how the character interacts with others, actions, and looks (NCTE/IRA). In film, some of these types of characterization can be fully developed. For example, while speech in a written media requires the reader to assume the tone of the words being spoken, an actor can inject emotion into statements. Therefore, whether a statement is sincere or sarcastic is less open to interpretation, and more defined. However, determining a character’s thoughts becomes much more difficult in a film, where there is generally no external insight into the character’s thoughts. Moreover, most films do not contain an omniscient narrator who can reveal the character’s thoughts and motivations. Instead, people who interpret films frequently argue about motivation. Through these various means of indirect characterization, one meets the character, much as one would meet an actual person in real life, and gets to form one’s own opinion of the character.
However, much like meeting someone in person, one should not always trust how someone is characterized in a film. For example, audience members bring their own prejudices and preconceptions to their judgments of the characters being portrayed. On the most basic level, this means that audience members bring their stereotyped assumptions with them to the movie theater. They make assumptions about characters based on race and gender, which are going to exist regardless of how an actor approaches the role. However, sometimes these stereotypes can be challenged. There have been several instances of actors playing roles that were originally written for people of different genders and/or races, and this has been successful in many instances. However, there are some movies where race and/or gender are integral parts of the movie. Gender played a crucial role in the Accused and race played a critical role in Do the Right Thing; both movies would have lost critical importance if the race or gender of principle actors had been changed. Race and gender are two prime elements of appearance. Moreover, actors may portray characters in a way that exacerbates or minimizes stereotyped attitudes. For example, when portraying a young African-American male, an actor can portray very different images by choosing to dress in baggy jeans, heavy jewelry, an oversized top, and sports shoes or by dressing in a fitted suit, minimal jewelry, and polished shoes. Therefore, appearance plays a really critical role in helping convey the personality of a character.
This paper discusses several different examples of characterization in film, to see how characterization can reveal facets of individuality. However, it is important to keep in mind that characters in film are not always honest. They may be unintentionally dishonest, such as the characters that do not know themselves, and, therefore, cannot portray themselves to an audience. Great coming of age films tend to begin with main characters who present uncertain facades to the public, because they do not know themselves. Of course, the character may also be trying to portray something other than the truth to the other characters in the movie. There can be many reasons for this type of subterfuge. Perhaps the character is having an affair or in fact, many movies feature characters that are somehow conmen, who need the other characters in the movie to fail to completely understand them in order to accomplish their own goals. Perhaps the best example of misleading characterization in any film is the character of Verbal Kint in the Usual Suspects. Kint appears as a crippled minor accomplice in a crime, but the end of the movie strongly suggests that Kint is actually the mastermind of a major criminal organization (Singer). What that example makes clear is that the audience must be aware of the character acting in a movie.
Character is such an important element of movies, that the good actors are those who can completely embody the written character. For that reason, sometimes the most convincing movie characters are those portrayed by so-called “character” actors, rather than typical leading men and women. This is an idea embraced my many authors when their works are translated to the screen. They want an unknown or lesser known actor portraying their characters, so that the focus will be on the character, rather than the person portraying the character. In fact, the author Anne Rice famously protested the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat in the film production of Interview with a Vampire, because of concerns that people were going to be looking at Tom Cruise, not at Lestat. Based on her own preconceptions of Cruise’s work, she had determined that he would not be able to convincingly portray the vampire Lestat. She later retracted that statement, happy with the job that Cruise had done portraying Lestat, but it showed that she was aware of how the actor’s reputation impacts characterization.
Anne Rice is not the only person aware of the fact that an actor’s real life can impact how the public perceives him or her in a movie role. If two actors are romantically involved off-screen, their romantic relationships onscreen receive a greater level of scrutiny. Likewise, believable onscreen chemistry is investigated to see if it has led to off-screen chemistry. Actors are assumed to have some of the characteristics of their prior roles, and, at least before the audience begins watching a film, to bring some of those characteristics to their future films. The actors who are most successful in avoiding this are those who are most willing to dramatically change their appearance and/or demeanor for their roles. However, that is not always possible, and actors must deal with the fact that the audience is going to have preconceived notions about a character because of the actor portraying the character. In fact, many times movies demonstrate an awareness of how an actor’s outside reputation will impact a movie role. Julia Roberts is the only significant female character in the remake of Ocean’s Eleven, and its sequels. In one of the movies, Ocean’s Twelve, her character’s physical similarity to the actress Julia Roberts is used as a plot device (Soderbergh). Therefore, it is important to be aware of how an actor’s stardom and prior roles can impact how a character is interpreted.
In some instances, movie stars have focused their careers on playing a certain type of character. For example, Clint Eastwood made a name for himself playing an archetypal cowboy in spaghetti Westerns. He was never able to shed this early image, but he incorporated it into later roles. In fact, one of his most critically acclaimed roles was playing the aged version of that same character in Unforgiven. Likewise, Robert DeNiro has a reputation for playing dangerous, usually criminal men. In his youth, DeNiro’s roles were mostly serious portrayals of these types of men, and he is famous for his roles in films such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. He simply cannot escape these expectations. So, when Robert DeNiro takes on a comedic role, such as the role of the potential father-in-law in Meet the Parents, the moment he comes on the screen, the audience is aware that he is Robert DeNiro, in addition to the character that is being portrayed. Therefore, his character can do things that other characters could not. Who but Robert DeNiro could portray a father who would give an actual lie detector test to his daughter’s suitor (Roach)? Another actor who has made a career of playing essentially different versions of the same basic role is Hugh Grant. In each of his films, Grant plays a bit of a romantic doofus, who is handsome, and because he is handsome, has some success with women, but is essentially clueless about women. This is a characterization that he brings to each of his roles. Therefore, when his characters end up being cads, the audience is not even angry with him; they knew he was a cad before the movie even started.
What all of the examples above make clear is that characterization in a film is complex. It involves combining what the character does on screen, what the actor is known for off screen, and whatever is directly said about the character. What this means is that some movies are not at all effective at creating character. Even some of the best and most talented actors have been miscast in movies, where their presence simply did not sell the character correctly. On the other hand, some of the more memorable characters in film were created by relatively unknown actors, who were able to seize upon a role and make that role their own. In fact, the most effective characters in movies are so believable that they become real people in the minds of the audience. One prime example of this is Gregory Peck’s portrayal of defense lawyer Atticus Finch in to Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus was not even the main character in the film; the film actually focused on Atticus’ daughter Scout, and was her coming-of-age novella. Atticus was a relatively absent father figure, who raised Scout with a type of loving negligence. However, Peck took the role of Atticus and breathed life into it. He dressed the part of a Southern lawyer in the time of the Depression, complete with glasses and sharply ironed clothes, which the audience just knew had been washed and pressed by his hired woman, Calpurnia. Peck was handsome enough to make Atticus attractive, so that the overt flirting by the women in the neighborhood seemed plausible, but not so handsome as to seem fictional (See generally, Mulligan). No wonder then that, when asked who inspired them to enter into the field of law, more lawyers site the fictional Finch than any real life lawyer. That is the power of excellent characterization in a movie; the character becomes a living, breathing human being in the minds of the audience.
This paper will begin with an examination of direct characterization. How do films directly convey information about their characters? Moreover, the paper will investigate whether or not direct characterization is likely to be somewhat dishonest? Do films that have narrators generally have omniscient narrators, or narrators who are limited in the scope of their knowledge? If limited, are these narrators hampered by their lack of total perception? Do the narrators actually convey a direct characterization of the characters in the movie, or does the audience still tend to rely primarily upon its own instincts in order to form opinions about the various characters in a movie?
Next, this paper will examine the five different types of indirect characterization. In the speech section, the author will address not only what a character says, but also how the character says it. Next, the author will examine thoughts, and how film can reveal what a character is feeling even without employing a narrator. Then the paper will look at how characters interact with the other characters in the movie, and how these interactions reveal things about their character. After that, the author will look at how a character’s actions reveal details about that character, even more so than speech. Finally, the paper will look at how a character’s appearance impacts character perception in a film.
After looking at the five types of indirect characterization, the paper will address some of the more notable characters in films. Each individual examination of a character will reveal how the above five elements can help contribute to a realistic performance. However, examination of the individual roles will also allow the author to examine how external factors can influence how one perceives the character in a movie. The notable roles addressed in this paper include: Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, Atticus Finch in to Kill a Mockingbird, Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Verbal Kint in the Usual Suspects. While there are obviously significant differences in these characters, they are all notable in that they completely conveyed the personality of the character in question.
Most movies do not feature narrators, but some movies do feature narrators, and they contribute to the impression the audience has of the characters. In addition, when another character makes observations about a character in the movie, which is a form of direct characterization. Direct characterization gives the audience information about a character without having to interpret it. In that way, direct characterization takes away the ambiguity that comes along with characterization. However, narrators are not always reliable. In fact, in a movie, the director replaces the traditional omniscient narrator one would find in a book. This makes the narrator obsolete. Therefore, when a director chooses to include a narrator in the book, that choice suggests one of two possibilities. Either that narrator is very reliable, and the director has chosen to include him or her so that the audience can rely upon what the narrator says, or the narrator has an agenda and is included so that he can further that agenda through his narration.
An example of a film with a reliable narrator is the film the Princess Bride. In the Princess Bride, the grandfather is the narrator. He goes to visit his grandson, who is ill. The grandfather and the grandson have a distant, but loving relationship, and the telling of the story serves as a way for him to establish his relationship with his grandson. When the grandfather describes Buttercup, Wesley, or Count Reuben, he accurately describes them physically and emotionally. Therefore, it becomes clear that one is able to rely upon him as a narrator. This trustworthiness permits the audience to embrace those characteristics described by the narrator, so that the narrator truly characterizes the film.
However, what about in instances when the narrator is unreliable? At the start of a film, the audience generally knows nothing about the narrator or any of the other characters in a film. Therefore, when a narrator begins characterizing the people in the film, the audience is generally going to believe what the narrator says unless the narrator is apparently unreliable. Take, for example, Verbal Kint in the Usual Suspects. He narrates the majority of the movie, weaving a tale that places the blame for the crime on another person. It is not until the very last of the movie that it becomes clear that he is unreliable, causing the audience to question his narration. However, that does not mean that the narrator’s characterizations do not help create character in a movie; it simply means that the audience has to filter what the narrator has said through what the audience has come to understand about the narrator.
One of the primary things that an actor does is use speech to convey feeling and emotion in a film. Therefore, speech is probably the most important element of characterization. What a character says gives important clues to that character’s motivations and beliefs. However, perhaps even more critical than what a character says, is how the character says it. How a character speaks can reveal tremendous details about a character before he even has the chance to say more than a dozen words. For example, speech can reveal accent, which reveals a character’s cultural and educational background. Speech-speed can be used as an indicator of speed of thought, which serves as a proxy for measuring character intelligence. Additionally, word pattern and usage can, like accent, reveal educational and cultural background. The timing of words and emphasis on certain words can reveal which elements of the spoken word the character feels are the most important. They can also indicate whether the speaker is a native language speaker or someone who has learned the language later in life. The tone of the speech can also help reveal the true intention behind the words. Finally, an actor’s use of silence can do more to develop a character than any use of words, when that silence is well-placed and appropriate.
Speech involves so many different aspects, but one of the first things that people notice is how a character sounds. In fact, accent is one of the elements of speech that can make or break a character. In fact, many times, actors are called upon to portray a character from a certain place, or perhaps a known person with an identifiable accent. At that point, the actor has to make a choice whether or not to try to adopt the accent of the region or person being portrayed. This is a critical decision in the portrayal of a figure, because the adoption of an accent can add to or detract from the characterization of a role. When an actor is able to successfully adopt the appropriate accent, it makes the portrayal of the character much more convincing because it captures the time and place setting of a story immediately. One of the reasons that Meryl Streep is such a critically acclaimed actress is because of her uncanny ability to accurately portray a wide variety of accents, and she brings that atmosphere to a movie immediately. However, actors can play convincing roles without adopting an accent, and should probably do so if they are not able to completely and accurately adopt an accent. Kevin Costner’s version of Robin Hood was very popular, partially because, in it, American actors spoke in their normal accents, rather than trying to speak in a Medieval English accent. There are many reasons that actors and directors may make the choice to avoid accents. In the case of an accent from a different time and place, the reality is that an actor cannot listen to someone speaking it, making it difficult to capture an accent. However, it can be even more difficult to adopt a current accent. In fact, while a good accent can make a film much more believable and vault a character into classic status, a bad accent can turn an otherwise good movie into a farce.
Another element of how speech impacts characterization is speech speed. Speech speed not only impacts how one perceives the character, but also impacts the speed of the action in the movie, as slow speech necessarily slows down the flow and movement of a movie. The most notable examples of speech speed being used as a tool to inform the audience about the character in question are in cases where actors are portraying people who are somehow mentally disabled. In these cases, slow speech serves as a proxy for slow thought. Tom Hank’s successful portrayal of Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump was largely attributable to the fact that he spoke at about one-half the speed of most normal speech (Zemeckis). This gave the audience insight into the fact that Forrest’s thought processes were slower than normal. It also gave the audience time to process what Forrest was saying, so that Forrest appeared transparent, in contrast to the faster-speaking characters in the film.
However, speech speed is not only used to portray mental disability, but convey other messages, as well. People in the American south do tend to speak more slowly than people in the north, and, when an actor portraying a southerner slows down speech patterns, he automatically captures the feeling of the south, even without using a southern accent. Likewise, people in the Northeast speak more rapidly than people in middle America, so that rapid speech can indicate someone being from the northeast. Rapid speech can also reveal other details about a character, especially if the speech is more rapid than other characters in the movie. A character who always speaks rapidly may be seen as simply high-energy in some way. However, fast speech is also indicative of a character that is nervous, or perhaps trying to deceive other characters in a film. Rapid speech, especially if a character speaks rapidly at times, but at normal speed at other times, can indicate nervousness or perhaps drug use. Many of Steve Buscemi’s characters speak rapidly in his films, and he is often seen as a weasel-y or deceptive character, probably because of those speech patterns.
Word pattern and usage is another element of speech, and one that can sometimes be a more subtle part of characterization. Just as in real life, how a character uses words can reveal things like educational background; while grammatical errors are commonplace in speech, some errors continue to highlight ignorance. More importantly, this usage must be considered within the context of the movie. For example, the word “y’all” is considered very commonplace in parts of the United States, especially Texas. It is a catch-all phrase that can refer to a bunch of people or a singular person. However, it is not generally used in the northeast. Instead, in the northeast, people use the phrase “you guys.” A character’s word choice can reveal background information about the character, even in a line as innocuous as “y’all, coming?” Or “you guys, coming?” The use of “you guys” can seem hostile and aggressive in a southern character, while it would be friendly in a character from someplace like New Jersey. In addition, some words are indicative of a lack of education, such as “ain’t.” While a character can use that word without appearing uneducated, he must do so with an awareness that he is not speaking properly. The usage almost has to be tongue-in-cheek; otherwise, using the word simply signifies ignorance. Finally, word pattern can help create the unique facets of a character. The most notable example of a character identified with certain word patterns is Yoda from the Star Wars movies. Yoda’s speech patterns are reminiscent of someone whose primary language is something other than English, with a structure that differs from the noun — verb, modifiers immediately preceding the modified word, one finds in English. This identifies Yoda as other. It also serves as a way of making Yoda seem simple or childlike, which makes his intelligence seem to contrast with the initial image of the character.
Of course, one cannot discuss speech without looking at the tone that the character is using. What emotion appears to be behind the words being spoken? This can be one of the more difficult parts of characterization, because it requires an audience that is able to appropriately identify emotion. Therefore, an actor needs to be able to convey emotion in a convincing manner. One of the more iconic lines in the history of cinema is when Robert DeNiro’s character in Taxi Driver is standing in front of a mirror with his gun, asking, “You talkin’ to me?” (Scorsese). That question is, by itself, totally innocuous. Without seeing the entire context of the question, it simply could be a question by someone wishing to ascertain whether a comment was directed towards him. Even within the context of the film, it could have been interpreted as a plea or query. However, the tone in which the question was asked in the movie took it out of the realm of inquiry or plea. The menacing tone that De Niro used in that movie transformed that sentence from a possible plea or query into the threat of a man slowly losing his grip on his sanity.
Finally, one cannot discuss speech without looking at the words that are actually said. After all, the content of speech should reveal how a character feels about the person to whom they are speaking, the characters thoughts, and what the character wants to do. Therefore, content of speech is critical. In Gone with the Wind, when Rhett Butler is courting Scarlett O’Hara, they come to the point where it seems as if he might kiss her, and she prepares herself for that kiss. Rather than kissing her, Rhett tells her, “No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how” (Fleming). Examining the content of his speech, one learns some critical information about Rhett. First, Rhett is putting out there how he feels about Scarlett, and what he feels should be done about it. This line is the first indication that Rhett might be falling in love with Scarlett, because, up to this point in time, nothing about his personality suggests that he would ever miss the opportunity to kiss a woman he found to be kissable.
Of course, not everything a character says is so romantic or wistful. In Full Metal Jacket, Private Joker says, “I wanted to see exotic Vietnam, the jewel of Southeast Asia. I, uh, I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture, and kill them” (Kubrick). This quote highlights the absurdities of a war like Vietnam, while also revealing something about the character of the person saying it. Joker serves as a war correspondent, and the fact that he can make jokes, even macabre ones, about the circumstances of Vietnam help humanize him. In fact, what a character says can contradict other aspects of their characterization. In Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Jessica Rabbit’s characterization makes her out to be a femme fatale, who is cheating on her husband Roger, and, perhaps, helping frame him for murder. When confronting the private detective who is helping Roger, Jessica says, “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way” (Zemeckis). Although the audience does not know it at the time, she is being honest; she really is trying to help her husband. However, because what Jessica says seems to contradict so significantly with other aspects of her characterization, the audience is still not sure how to interpret her at this point in the movie. In fact, concentrating on apparent dichotomies between speech and other aspects of characterization can make it difficult for an audience to determine which aspects of the character are defining.
Some elements of characterization are easy for an audience to see. For example, appearance can be interpreted immediately. However, some aspects of characterization are much more difficult to reveal. In fact, thoughts may be the most difficult thing for movies to reveal, because movies do not offer insight into the character’s mindset. There is the possibility that a character may also be a narrator, but those narrators still have the problem of reliability. In fact, all characters in a film have potential reliability issues, so that it is not always possible to determine their thoughts from their actions or words. In fact, while the audience might feel that they can understand what a character is thinking by watching that behavior, there is always the possibility that the character’s behavior or words are intentionally dishonest. However, a film rarely features even an intentionally dishonest character that never lets his guard down to reveal some of his inner thoughts. Generally, there are moments in films where the character is musing, which may make it more possible for the audience to understand what the character is thinking. For example, in the Usual Suspects, Verbal Kint says, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist” (Singer). This line reveals that Kint realizes how difficult it is to trick people, but that he is doing it anyway. Combined with his behavior, it gives tremendous insight into his behavior. Not only is Kint a conman, murderer, and thief, but he thinks that he is good enough, or perhaps bad enough, to put himself in league with the Devil, and he might be right.
Of course, thoughts are revealed in a variety of different means, not just through the soliloquies and smaller asides that typified drama in the days before recorded visual media. Thoughts can sometimes be revealed when a character’s actions and words are discordant. In fact, when thoughts and actions fail to matchup that provides a signal to the audience to examine both thoughts and actions to try to decide what the character is really thinking. For example, in Psycho, Norman Bates initially appears to be nothing more than a nebbish hotel clerk. However, once he is seen dressing in his dead mother’s clothing, that gives the audience a good indication that something is wrong with his reality testing (Hitchcock). Knowing that Norman is crazy helps people understand that he is the person perpetrating the crimes in the movie. While the audience may not know exactly what Norman is thinking at that time, it is pretty clear that he is not thinking rationally. Knowing whether or not a character is thinking rationally is critical to understanding the character.
In fact, filmmakers seem to do a good job of revealing when a character is losing touch with reality, thus revealing their thoughts. Perhaps this is because most audience members can identify when behavior is somehow off. In the movie the Shining, Jack, portrayed by Jack Nicholson, is slowly losing his mind due to a combination of cabin fever and the fact that the hotel for which he is caring is haunted. By the end of the movie, Jack is chasing his family with axes and trying to kill them, strong indicators that he has lost his mind. However, the audience has, by that time, been forewarned that Jack is going crazy. He is an author who has been, ostensibly, writing for a long period of time. His wife discovers that he has actually just re-typed the same sentence repeatedly (Kubrick). This little glimpse into Jack’s mind reveals that his thoughts have been corrupted.
What can be more difficult to portray are the inner workings of a character who is rational, but who might not be portraying honest behavior to the audience or to other characters in the film. In the movie Pretty Woman, the prostitute Vivian is picked up by a businessman, Edward, who actually seems to decide to use her services on a whim. The first night together, she names a price for him and basically gives him carte blanche, with the restriction that she will not kiss him on the mouth. There is an additional scene in which he attempts to kiss her on the mouth, but she evades him. When Vivian begins to fall in love with Edward, there is a scene in which she initiates kissing him on the mouth (Marshall). This action reveals how the character is feeling; she is falling in love with Edward.
Of course, most movies feature multiple characters, and the reason that people watch movies is to see how the characters interact with one another. How a character treats the other characters in a movie reveals a lot about that character. What may be even more revealing is how the character is treated by others in the film. All of these small interactions reveal a significant amount of information about the character of the people being portrayed. Is the character kind to people? If not overtly kind, does the character try to help people in an innocuous way? Is a character consistent with people, or does he present multiple fronts to multiple people? All of these indications can help the audience understand what type of person the character is.
For example, in the Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lector is a serial killer. In fact, not only does he kill people, but he cannibalizes them, as well. Obviously, there is something lacking in Lector’s personality. However, he is not the one-dimensional serial killer one might see in other horror films. On the contrary, Lector is a highly intelligent serial killer who once worked as a psychiatrist. Though he has no qualms about killing and eating people, he has a highly developed sense of right and wrong. One sees this in Lector’s interactions with Clarice Starling, the FBI agent sent to interview Lector to see if he an assist them in apprehending an active serial killer before he kills his next victim. When a fellow inmate at Lector’s maximum security mental hospital masturbates and then throws semen on Clarice, Lector actually talks him into swallowing his own tongue. This scene is not shown in the movie, simply referred to as a means of explaining why Lector is being punished in his cell. However, it does reveal something about how Lector reacts towards people. First, he feels protective of Clarice, and he decides that he needs to take action to punish someone who has done something very offensive to her. This sense of propriety and protectiveness of Clarice is what separates Lector from other serial killers portrayed in movies. Second, he is apparently either so much more intelligent or more persuasive than others, that he is able to kill a guy who is in a separate cell from him, simply by talking him into committing suicide. Obviously, this scene reveals how a character’s interactions with the other characters in a movie can help reveal his character (see generally, Demme).
One of the most interesting recent films describing interactions between characters is Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. The film’s plot has two brothers, Hank and Andy, in desperate financial messes, who decide to rob their parents’ jewelry store. They know the store is insured, and decide that it will be a victimless crime. However, the heist goes terribly awry, with one of their accomplices and their mother ending up dead. What is most interesting about this movie is how it reveals the character of the people involved. Hank appears to be a very nice man. He is struggling to pay child support, but those struggles appear to be linked to the fact that he is paying for private school for his daughter. However, underneath the facade, Hank is not a nice man. In his conversations with his ex-wife, he is both aggressive and avoidant. He has not paid child support in three months. Moreover, he has been involved in an affair with Andy’s wife for approximately a year and a half. However, in his interactions with Andy, Hank appears to be the subservient, bullied younger brother. It is only when one combines Hank’s interactions with all of the characters that one can really begin to understand his character. Hank is not the sweet good-guy that he appears to be. Instead, he is a man on the brink of desperation, who has apparently put himself in such a precarious position that he is not concerned about the people he might hurt.
The character of the brother Andy is even more fascinating. From Andy’s initial interaction with his wife, one gets the image of a man who is very in love. They talk about the possibility of getting to live in Brazil forever, and when he initially approaches Hank about dome type of get-rich scheme, the natural assumption is that he is trying to make money for a return trip. In Andy’s initial interactions with his brother, one gets the image of a protective older brother who is used to having his younger brother’s adoration and obedience. As the movie progresses, however, it becomes clear that Andy has a major drug problem. Not only does he snort cocaine at work, but he regularly goes to the home of his heroin dealer. The audience already has serious suspicions about Andy when he proposes to Hank that they rob their parents’ store. These suspicions only become more dramatic as the movie progresses. Though Andy proposes the robbery as a joint venture, he makes Hank do all of the work for the robbery. When Hank tells him that they cannot rob the store, Andy pressures and bullies him until Hank agrees to the plan. Combined together, these facets make it clear that Andy is somehow morally deficient. This becomes even clearer as the movie progresses. Andy decides to rob his heroin dealer for the money to escape. He kills the dealer and one of the dealer’s customers, an unnecessary precaution since the customer is passed out when Andy enters the dealer’s home, making it impossible for the man to identify Andy. This demonstrates that Andy has totally lost regard for human life. Without seeing these shadowy interactions with people, one would not have an accurate representation of Andy.
However, even they do not paint a full picture of the man. When Andy’s wife leaves him, telling him that she has been having an affair with his brother, he reacts with shocked stoicism. She says that she needs money to take a cab to her mother’s house, and Andy pulls out his wallet and gives her the money. It is only after she leaves that Andy shows some emotion. He systematically destroys some of the things in their bedroom and living room. However, he does not do so in a rage or a fit of anger. Instead, he remains detached even as symbolically destroying the marital bed. It gives the audience insight into the idea that Andy is a man who feels very deeply, but who has no idea how to express his emotion.
In real life, many people hold to the adage that actions speak louder than words. What they mean by this is that people can say a wide variety of things, but to know someone’s true thoughts and true intentions, one should look at their actions. Movies provide the perfect opportunity to see the dichotomy that arises between actions and words, because they allow the actors to portray the different elements of a character. To investigate action, one must look beyond what a character says and ask what the character does and how the character behaves.
One of the best examples of actions revealing character may be the Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino. Gran Torino is the story of Walt Kowalski, a widower living in a Michigan neighborhood. Walt is a deeply unhappy man, who is clearly dissatisfied with his children and grandchildren. He is disturbed that this, presumptively, previously all-white neighborhood has become integrated. He is specifically upset with the Hmong family that lives next to him, not understanding their customs, and rejecting their overtures at friendliness. In fact, when the movie starts, Walt appears to be basically beyond redemption; an old man destined to die alone and bitter.
However, Walt’s actions reveal an entirely different man. When Thao, the boy next door, tries to steal Walt’s car, Walt does not do what one expects him to do, which is to either call the police or use his gun on Thao. Instead, Walt makes Thao work off the damages to the car. At the time, Walt’s motives for making Thao work are unclear, but his actions make it clear that he is trying to help the boy. In a relatively rapid period of time, Walt and Thao become good friends. Walt keeps Thao from becoming involved in his cousin’s gang, but there are dangerous repercussions for Thao’s family. The gang members, which include one of Thao’s cousins, rape and seriously injure Thao’s sister. Walt realizes that the entire family is at risk. Walt prepares to go to war against the gangbangers. Instead of shooting at them, Walt makes the gangbangers think that he is armed. They open fire on him, killing him, and ensuring that they will be prosecuted and convicted, keeping Thao’s family safe. The ultimate act of self-sacrifice, dying for Thao, reveals Walt to be a man with the capability of caring deeply, even if was never once able to verbally express those feelings to Thao. He even made one posthumous act that demonstrated his character. Rather than bequeathing his Gran Torino to one of his spoiled grandchildren, Walt left it to Thao (See generally, Eastwood).
In a visual medium, such as film, the appearance of the character takes on as much importance as elements of plot and storyline. If a character does not look the part, no matter how great the other elements of the film are, it simply seems a little unbelievable. Imagine for a moment an actor like Paul Reubens, better known as PeeWee Herman, playing an action star role usually reserved for someone like Vin Diesel. It would not matter how great the quality of the acting involved, it simply would not seem credible for him to play one of those roles. Not all roles are so heavily dependent upon appearance, but appearance certainly figures into the characterization of the people in a film. Appearance is the first thing that people, especially movie audiences, see. It is the first thing that gives the audience a clue about the nature of the character involved. In fact, even some elements of appearance, which may seem somewhat insignificant, can become critical parts of a character.
Pretty Woman is a movie where appearance plays a major role. At the beginning of the movie, Julia Roberts portrays Vivian, a prostitute in L.A. She is , a mini-skirt/dress, and a wig. Although she is still vastly more attractive than the average real-life streetwalking prostitute, her attire signals that she is a prostitute. After striking a deal with Edward to stay with him for a week, she attempts to take his money shopping. However, because of her attire, she is not able to purchase anything in the upscale shops near his ritzy hotel. After purchasing the appropriate attire, she is able to blend in with Edward’s upscale friends. However, Edward reveals that she is a prostitute to one of his friends. They have a disagreement, and, in that conversation, she points out that she would have known how to handle his friend’s comments about her profession in her old clothes. She makes the point that appearance can help determine demeanor. The whole focus of the movie is Vivian’s Cinderella transformation. However, this whole transformation demonstrates the importance of appearance in how someone perceives character. Dressed in her streetwalking clothes, Vivian is perceived as a disposable member of society; but dressed as a wealthy woman, Vivian is treated as a lady (See generally, Marshall). In this way, the movie demonstrates an awareness of how critical appearance is to social roles and norms.
Of course, appearance is not the only factor when creating a character. Actors can undergo significant changes in physical appearance to make them appropriate for a role. Moreover, an actor can play a role in such a way that the role is completely and totally associated with that actor, even if the person does not physically embody the role in the way one would anticipate. To think about the way that appearance interacts with character, one should consider the various actors cast to play James Bond in the various James Bond films. Sean Connery portrayed Bond in the original films, and played him as a tough guy with a very thin veneer of civilization. George Lazenby, a model who played a very physically attractive Bond, almost had to play the role in a sarcastic way, making nodding references to the audience. When Roger Moore, whose good looks were more classic than Connery’s, took over the role, Bond became more of a womanizer. While a consistent feature of Bond’s has always been his womanizing, Connery appeared to have some emotional connection with his conquest. Moore’s Bond was seen as more casual in his romantic relationships. Timothy Dalton, younger and more handsome than Roger Moore played Bond in a more realistic way, less stylized than earlier Bonds, which actually detracted from the nature of the Bond films. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was more refined, which is not surprising given Brosnan’s refined appearance. When Daniel Craig was cast as Bond, the films returned to the same feeling as the early Connery Bond films; like Connery, Craig’s physical appearance lent an air of obvious danger to the role, which had been missing in the interim portrayals of Bond. While each actor and the various different incarnations of Bond had elements that made them successful, the difference in those films helps demonstrate how much appearance can impact one’s impression of a character, even a character with whom most of the audience is already familiar.
This focus on appearance can make casting a little restrictive. For example, as the above examples demonstrate, an incongruous appearance can make a character unbelievable. For example, it would strain credulity to have an overweight actor playing a concentration-camp inmate. However, that does not mean that actors should immediately be excluded from a role based on innate physical appearance. The reality is that many actors have repeatedly proven willing to change their appearances in order to play certain roles. Matt Damon, Renee Zellwegger, Mickey Rourke, and Gwyneth Paltrow are only a few of the actors who have gained significant amounts of weight to play particular roles. Christian Bale notably lost an alarming amount of weight to play Trevor Rezik in the Machinist. All of these transformations changed the immediate physical impression that the actors brought to their various roles, making them appropriate for parts that may not have been the best suited for them.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes in appearance is the one that Charlize Theron made to play serial-killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. Wuornos was a real-life individual, a victim of child sexual abuse, a drug addict, and a prostitute who struggled with poverty throughout her entire life. In addition, the audience knew what Wuornos looked like because her arrest, trial, and execution were all very highly publicized. Had Theron failed to capture the look of Wuornos, it would have been difficult to imagine her as the serial killer. The pictures of Wuornos after her arrest revealed a very rough-looking woman. When Charlize Theron was cast to play her, it seemed difficult to imagine Theron, widely considered one of the most attractive women in Hollywood, portraying such an unattractive individual. There was just too huge of a gap between Theron and Wuornos. However, Theron totally committed to the role and went through some drastic changes to make her portrayal of her believable. She went through some semi-permanent changes, such as gaining approximately 30 pounds in weight, allowing her own hair to be damaged and thinned, and having her eyebrows shaved and bleached. On top of the semi-permanent changes, she had makeup to make her hair took dirty, have her complexion ruined, dentures to change the shape of her face, and contacts to change her eyes from blue to brown. When the physical transformation was complete, Theron no longer looked like a beautiful ex-model. Instead, she looked like a truck-stop prostitute with the type of rough history Wuornos had. This made her portrayal of Wuornos believable.
Of course, not all appearance requires dramatic change. Appearance as a part of character can be the simple result of small changes. For example, correct costuming for the period can strike the tone of appropriate appearance in historical pieces. It might even be the case that it in most modern productions of historical movies, there is a desire to refrain from looking too historical. In actual history, people did not bathe frequently, their hair was rarely washed, and they had limited, if any, use of cosmetics. They simply did not look as attractive as modern people. Most period pieces ignore those elements of history, concentrating, instead, on clothing and other very recognizable period costuming. Therefore, appropriate costuming goes a long way towards creating character in a movie.
As this paper describes, characterization in a movie is a complex process. It is not merely a matter of an actor repeating lines that have been written, but a combination of script, interaction between actors, costuming, physical presence, accent, and ways of speaking. For the most part, actors do an adequate job of capturing character in a movie. What that means is that, while watching the movie, the audience can easily imagine that the character on screen is somehow a living, breathing person. However, for the most part, these characters are limited to the screen. While they may seem alive in that context, when the movie is over, the characters are quickly relegated to the role of something on screen.
There are other characters, however, that transcend the role on the screen. They are portrayed so well that they become icons. They may be considered the ultimate embodiment of a certain type. For example, Vivien Leigh’s portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara established the ultimate Southern belle. They might be considered iconic because of the subtlety of a performance, such as Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Verbal Kint. They may also simply be memorable because they were simply characters that stay with the viewer long after the movie ends. Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch may be the ideal of a lawyer, but it certainly is not the iconic performance of a lawyer; too many real-life lawyers fail to live up to those expectations. However, that does not mean that one can watch to Kill a Mockingbird without musing what the world would be like if lawyers truly were like Atticus.
The next section of this paper will examine some of the iconic roles in the history of film. Obviously, the history of cinema is too vast for a single research paper to cover all of the characters that have become iconic. In addition, differing opinions by different critics or even audiences might place other people above those selected as movie icons. The author of this paper acknowledges these difficulties. The characters discussed were chosen because they made the author stop and think. Not only were the characters believable, but they were compelling. Though not all of them were heroes, in fact, most of them would not qualify as heroes, they still managed to get audiences to admire them or root for them. They had charisma; no small feat for a character confined to the screen.
Vivien Leigh’s portrayal of southern belle Scarlett O’Hara is one of those iconic roles. She became so identified with the role of Scarlett O’Hara, that even people who first came to know Scarlett through the book adopted Leigh’s representation of Scarlett as definitive. It was not enough that people thought of Leigh as Scarlett, but that they thought of Scarlett as an actual person. It is difficult to imagine the viewer who, at the conclusion of the movie, does not spend some time imagining how Scarlett manages to reunite with Rhett. The character lives on after the conclusion of the movie. Therefore, this paper will discuss how Scarlett is characterized in Gone with the Wind, and what makes that characterization so compelling.
There is no narrator in Gone with the Wind, so that there is little opportunity for direct characterization. The other characters do comment on Scarlett’s personality, but not in a manner that lends itself to direct characterization. That is because so many of the characters in the film have flaws that keep them from being reliable as narrators. Ashley is too timid and uncertain to make a reliable narrator. Melanie’s heart seems almost too pure to be able to understand Scarlett’s pragmatic and practical nature. Rhett seems more capable of honestly observing Scarlett than any other character in the movie; however, because he is in love with her, even his honest observations may be suspect. Therefore, direct characterization does not really contribute to the characterization of Scarlett in Gone with the Wind. However, there are some moments where the words of others do describe Scarlett very well. Rhett tells her, “a cat’s a better mother than you” (Fleming). While he is in love with Scarlett, and, therefore, not an impartial judge of character, the fact that he says that to her suggests there is some truth in his statement. Moreover, by that time in the movie, the audience is aware that Rhett is honest, even when dishonesty would better serve his purposes.
While direct characterization does not provide the necessary insight into Scarlett, indirect characterization reveals a plethora of information about the character of Scarlett. First, appearance is a critical part of the role of Scarlett. In the book, Scarlett is not an exceptional beauty; though attractive, it is more her charisma that makes her desirable, not her physical appearance. However, Vivien Leigh was an incredible beauty, and her Scarlett was incredibly beautiful. This may have been an important element of her character, because it helped explain why Scarlett had so many suitors, without providing a back-story about her charisma. It would have been impossible to explain Scarlett’s charisma at the very opening of the movie, without employing a narrator to describe her; having her physically more beautiful than the other women in the film circumvented this characterization challenge. It also helped contrast Scarlett’s appearance with Melanie’s. Though Olivia de Havilland was also an attractive actress, her looks were downplayed in the film, to heighten the contrast between the plain-looking Melanie and the attractive Scarlett.
Of course, attractiveness is only one element of a character’s appearance. In addition to attractiveness, physical appearance can convey the time period, social status, and even information about a character’s physical and mental health. Obviously, Scarlett’s dresses conveyed that she was a Civil War era Southern belle; they were large dresses with hoop skirts and tight waists. Of course, the dresses were not the only part of the costumes; Vivien Leigh had to wear corsets underneath the dresses to create the exaggerated hourglass shape that was part of that era. However, the clothing changed during the movie to reflect changes in the storyline. At the beginning of the movie, the dresses were obviously expensive, fancy dresses that reflected Scarlett’s position as a spoiled child from a wealthy family. When Scarlett was in mourning, she wore black dresses, as was required of a woman in mourning. While the costume alone did not reveal her entire character, the fact that Scarlett’s inner emotions so starkly contrasted with the facade she had to prevent to society after Charles’ death, the fact that she was in black taffeta, literally cloaked in mourning, made it even more of a contrast. In addition, when Scarlett had returned to Tara and was facing tremendous financial struggles, her clothing became plainer and drabber, reflecting the changes in her circumstances.
Of course, the most dramatic costuming in the entire movie involves the transformation of Tara’s opulent velvet drapes into an impressive dress for when Scarlett goes to implore Rhett to provide her with the money needed to save Tara. She is aware that Rhett places a premium on appearance and will judge her financial circumstances based on how she looks. She wants to approach him about becoming his mistress, knowing that she needs to do so from a position of power. If he thinks that she is in financial need, then she will be coming to him from a position of weakness. She tried telling him that she needed him when Atlanta was burning, but he left her anyway, to join the Confederate Army. Therefore, Scarlett knows that she cannot approach him from a position of neediness. To try to convince Rhett that Tara is doing fine and she is not in need, Scarlett has Mammy tear down the drapes and create a new dress.
However, the drape-dress scene reveals how much the finer details of appearance can impact how the audience perceives the character. Scarlett is renowned for her pale white skin, which was a status symbol demonstrating that a woman did not have to work outside. Of course, it also contrasted with blacks, who were slaves in the first part of the movie. The paler the person, the father removed one could assume they were from being in the slave caste. However, since working outside, Scarlett developed a tan. This helped demonstrate that she was no longer the privileged, spoiled belle that she had once been. These physical aspects of her transformation made her characterization seem believable.
Of course, Scarlett’s appearance is only a small part of her characterization. Scarlett must be a completely believable Southern belle, or else Vivien Leigh would be unable to sell the story. So many people associate Leigh with Scarlett O’Hara or a later role, Blanche DuBois, that they may not be aware that Leigh was not, herself, a Southern belle. On the contrary, she was an Englishwoman. Obviously, Leigh felt that portraying Scarlett would require employing a Southern accent, and she did so in a very convincing manner. Her Southern accent was spot-on, conveying the sound of a woman from Georgia, which was exactly who Scarlett was supposed to be. Given that the conflict between the North and the South played such a critical background role in the movie, having a Scarlett who failed to use a Southern accent or whose accent was not convincing would have detracted from the characterization of the role.
Throughout the movie, Scarlett has the opportunity to reveal character through dialogue. When she discovers that Ashley, the man she believes to be her true love, is planning on marrying Melanie, she approaches him and confronts him about his plans. The fact that she spoke to him at all already distinguishes her from other women of her time, because it would not have been considered socially acceptable for a woman to approach a man about any type of romantic topic. However, it is what she tells him that truly introduces the audience to Scarlett’s unique character. She tells Ashley, “you’d rather live with that silly little fool who can’t open her mouth except to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and raise a passel of mealy-mouthed brats just like her,” (Fleming). This statement reveals a tremendous amount about Scarlett’s character. First, she is obviously willing to speak her mind and act in a bolder manner than was anticipated or tolerated for women of her time. Second, she is obviously aware that this makes her different than women of her time, and is making her less desirable to the man she wants to marry. She contrasts Melanie’s behavior with her own, making it clear that, even if Melanie’s behavior is more socially desirable, she thinks that her demeanor and behavior are more desirable than Melanie’s. Third, she thinks that a woman like Melanie, who she thinks of as timid, is someone that Scarlett thinks of a mealy-mouthed and a fool. While Scarlett is aware of the expectations for women of her time period, she has no interest in meeting those expectations.
Another revealing piece of dialogue occurs when Scarlett is struggling to return Tara to prosperity. The Yankees raided the plantation when they were occupying the area, and almost anything edible has already been eaten. Moreover, Scarlett was not raised to know how to run a plantation; not only does she lack the knowledge of how to do the labor herself, but also the men that she needs to do the labor. In addition, her family has gone hungry, Scarlett is unable to come up with the funds she needs to pay for taxes, and, somehow, Scarlett has taken on a group of stragglers whom she is supporting. She does not walk away from her responsibilities, which she could do, but instead, struggles through them. A speech that she gives, which is almost like a soliloquy, states, “As God is my witness, as God is my witness, they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again” (Fleming). This statement reveals how much determination and grit Scarlett possesses. She knows that she is in a bad position; she knows it is going to be difficult to triumph, but she simply determines that she is going to be triumphant.
In fact, several of Scarlett’s quotes reveal the determination in her character. It is not the dreamy determination of a young girl, but the pragmatic determination of a woman who has seen her world change dramatically in a very short period of time. It is very interesting to see Scarlett’s determination change from a very childish concern, such as her intense desire to win Ashley as her own, to more realistic and adult desires. For example, Scarlett and Mammy see the whore Belle Watling. Mammy asks if Belle has colored hair, and if Scarlett knows a woman with colored hair. Scarlett’s reply demonstrates how far she is from the pampered Southern belle she once appeared to be, but is, instead, a completely practical woman. She tells Mammy, “Wish I knew that one. She’d get my money for me” (Fleming).
While dialogue is a critical part of the movie, it is important to keep in mind that speech is only one element of Scarlett’s character. There are several times when other facets of character development openly contradict the things that come out of Scarlett’s mouth. What it interesting is that these apparent conflicts do not seem to indicate that Scarlett is being intentionally dishonest but, suggest, perhaps, that Scarlett is not very self-aware. Scarlett may believe the selfish things that come out of her mouth, but, when pushed towards action, she actually does a lot to take care of the other characters in the movie. Therefore, it is clear that a critical element of Scarlett’s character is her actions. Scarlett’s actions actually reveal her to be a much more caring and loving person than one would assume simply listening to her speech or watching her direct interactions with the other characters. She takes care of Melanie, helping deliver her baby while Atlanta is burning. After the war, she takes on financial responsibility for Melanie, Ashley, and their child. In addition, she maintains financial responsibility for her former slaves, and appears to treat Mammy with more respect than she shows any other character in the film.
However, while Scarlett’s actions reveal a person who takes on a great deal of personal responsibility, it is impossible to ignore what they reveal about her selfishness. She marries not one, but two, husbands out of pure selfishness on her part. Her marriage to Charles Hamilton cannot be seen in any other way than as a revenge wedding aimed at hurting Ashley after he announces his upcoming marriage to Melanie. Her marriage to Frank Kennedy is selfish on two levels. First, Frank has been courting Scarlett’s sister for the duration of the movie. Second, Scarlett has no romantic feelings for Frank, but marries him simply to get access to his money, which saves Tara and provides Scarlett with the means of establishing some financial security for her future. Scarlett uses convict labor to run her sawmills, which is certainly a questionable moral process, but which provides her with substantial earnings. All of these factors point out how selfish Scarlett can be.
Scarlett’s actions also reveal her to be fairly unconcerned with how other people perceive her. Initially, she intends to go to the barbeque and eat enough to actually enjoy the food, despite social norms that dictated that women should eat only sparingly at public events. She was only dissuaded from doing so when Mammy pointed out that Ashley had yet to propose to her. Women of her time period did not run businesses, but she opened up and operated the saw mill. She allowed Rhett to bid on the dance with her, even though she was still in an official period of mourning, and deciding to dance was against all social norms.
In fact, Scarlett’s actions are part of how she interacts with other people. She really seems to act with some disregard for the opinions of others. At one point in the movie, Rhett tells Scarlett, “With enough courage, you can do without a reputation” (Fleming). At that point in the movie, Scarlett is still at least partially concerned about how she is perceived by others. However, she seems to take Rhett’s words to heart, eventually ignoring all societal norms in order to accomplish her goals.
Throughout the movie, Scarlett manages to avoid showing need to any of the other characters. She appears almost alarmingly self-sufficient. However, when fleeing Atlanta with a slave and Melanie, who has just given birth and is in extremely fragile condition, Scarlett reveals, for the first time, her vulnerability. Rhett gets Scarlett out of Atlanta and on the road she needs to travel in order to get to Tara. However, at that point, he tells her that he plans on leaving her to join the Confederate Army. From prior conversations, Scarlett knows that he does not believe in the cause, so the fact that he is leaving her in order to enlist is a double-betrayal. Scarlett is reduced to begging, telling him, “Oh, Rhett! Please, don’t go! You can’t leave me! Please! I’ll never forgive you!” Rhett seems to think that she is more resilient than she thinks she is, because, even though he professes his love for her, for the first time in the movie, he still leaves and joins the army. This scene not only reveals that Scarlett has learned she can depend upon Rhett when things are overwhelming and fears him not being around to help her, but also helps shape the future of their relationship. Having seen that she cannot actually depend upon him helps harden Scarlett, and she becomes even more pragmatic after this interaction.
As one can see, the development of a memorable character like Scarlett O’Hara is not due to a single aspect of characterization. Instead, all of the aspects of characterization must come together. That is why one rarely sees an incredible, durable character emerge from a mediocre film, since character development cannot be done by an actor working in isolation. However, when all the elements of a character do come together, they can create someone who lives on in the minds of the audience, long after a movie’s final scene. Scarlett is one such character.
If Scarlett O’Hara is the prototype of the Southern belle, it would be easy to make a comparison and suggest that Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch represents the genteel Southern white man in the Jim Crow south. Atticus’ soft speech, steady manner, and impeccable manners certainly evoke the storied reputation of the genteel South. However, to consider Atticus a traditional southern gentleman would require the audience to abandon what they knew of the South. It was not the genteel and polite society it appeared to be on the surface, but a culture that was very dependent upon the subservience of a subgroup of humans: African-Americans. The surface gentility of the South was, literally, built with the back breaking labor of slaves and former slaves, and there was a violent urgency in many whites to keep that system of racial oppression in place. Therefore, while Peck’s Atticus may have initially appeared to meet the characterizations of a traditional southern gentleman, as the movie unfolded, it became clear that Atticus was a better man than most of his peers.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a movie that uses a significant amount of direct characterization. The movie has a narrator. That narrator is Scout, the young daughter of Atticus Finch, an attorney in a small southern town. At first blush, one would assume that Scout is not a reliable narrator because she is going to be biased in favor of her father. However, Scout makes some very honest observations about her father’s weaknesses, which makes her a more reliable narrator than a child who viewed her father through uncritical eyes. In addition, it is not necessary that a narrator be objective in order to be reliable. There is nothing to suggest that Scout is failing to tell the truth about any of the actions that she observes. On the contrary, her entire narrative has the ring of truth in it. There may be an element of romanticizing her father’s actions, but that does not even appear to be present. In fact, as a narrator, Scout seems unaware of what type of greatness her father possesses. She is relaying events, but without a clear understanding of the full meaning of those events. Therefore, Scout is a trustworthy narrator, with the caveat that she might not reveal sufficient information about her father to form a complete opinion of his character.
Looking at Atticus, one does not see much to recommend his character either way. Gregory Peck was a handsome actor who could play a wide variety of roles, but he took on a very unassuming appearance for his role as Atticus Finch. Large glasses and carefully cleaned but plain suits formed Atticus’ costume. The clothes were correct for the 1930s, the time period being conveyed, and were appropriate attire for a small town attorney. However, they were nondescript and did little to differentiate the character from the others in the movie. This may seem like an oversight on the part of the directors and the actor. After all, a character as memorable and different as Atticus seems as if he should be instantly distinguishable from the rest of people. However, Atticus was meant to appear to be an everyday man. The fact that he was a remarkable man in the life and body of someone who was so seemingly average was the whole driving point behind Atticus’ greatness. Therefore, the fact that Atticus simply appeared to be the average professional male of the 1930s captured the essence of his character perfectly. The glasses helped convey his quiet cerebral quality, but, other than that, he was simply a man. Looking at Atticus, the audience would not be able to guess what this character would do in the movie.
There are several moments in the film where Atticus reveals his character through his actions. In fact, it would be fair to describe the film as a study of character in action. Of course, Atticus taking on the representation of Tom Robinson, and providing him with a zealous representation, is the first indicator of Atticus’ personality. For a white lawyer to zealously represent a black man charged with the sexual assault of a white woman was a dangerous act. It put Atticus in danger, as well as placing his children in danger. It would not have been unrealistic for an attorney to refuse to represent such a client. Furthermore, while such a refusal would not have said great things about that attorney’s character, it also would not have condemned his character, either. However, Atticus took the case anyway, because he knew it was the right thing to do. Moreover, it is revealed in the movie that Atticus took the case expecting a guilty verdict, so that he was putting himself at risk without even expecting a reward for his client. Obviously, this speaks to the quality of Atticus’ character.
Atticus’ reveals his character in other ways, as well. There is no reason to think that Atticus and Tom Robinson have any type of relationship predating the formation of their attorney-client relationship. That does not, however, prevent Atticus from risking his life to save Tom. Some of the townspeople decide that Tom does not deserve a trial and should, instead, be forcibly taken from the jail and lynched. Sheriff Tate tells Atticus what is planned. Atticus takes a chair, a lamp, and a book down to the jail to guard Tom. Though the film reveals that Atticus is an excellent shot, he does not prepare to meet this angry mob with violence. It as though he is aware that preparing to meet them with violence will only exacerbate an already tense and dangerous situation. Instead, he simply plans to make himself a human obstacle to their plans. It is a selfless act that could end in tragedy. In fact, it is a selfless act that may not have been appropriately thought-out. Atticus has left his children at home so that he can go guard Tom. Scout sneaks out to follow her father to the jail, and it is actually Scout’s intervention that seems to prevent the crowd from going through Atticus to get to Tom.
Another moment when Atticus’ actions reveal his character is when Calpurnia sees a rabid dog in the street. She sends someone to fetch Atticus and Sheriff Tate. The two men arrive on the scene, the sheriff carrying a rifle. However, rather than shoot the dog, the sheriff hands Atticus the gun. This action is puzzling to the children, and, at this point, to the audience, because there has been nothing in the story to this point to indicate that Atticus has any capacity for violence. However, it is at this point that Sheriff Tate reveals that Atticus is the best shot in the county. Atticus takes the rifle and shoots the dog, showing that he has the determination and ability to do violence when that is the only thing that can solve a problem. However, the fact that he never resorts to violence in any other part of the movie is what speaks volumes about his character. Atticus faces all types of danger and humiliation throughout the movie, but he refuses to debase himself by reacting in the same manner as those opposing him. Instead, he maintains a quiet dignity and peacefulness about himself, an idea that is magnified when the audience realizes exactly how capable Atticus would have been of doing otherwise.
Much of Atticus’ character is revealed in how he relates to other people. He seems to try very hard to always remember the humanity of others, even when they are not respecting that he is a human being. The movie is replete with examples of Atticus treating others with dignity in respect. However, two particular incidents seem the most noteworthy. The first incident occurs when Bob Ewell spits on Atticus outside of the courtroom. From the evidence that Atticus puts on in the courtroom, it is clear that Bob Ewell knows that Tom Robinson did not try to rape his daughter. The beating she received almost certainly came at the hands of her father, probably because Mayella made a pass at Tom. However, Bob still spits in Atticus’ face. Many men would have reacted with violence to such provocation, and done so with little fear of facing any type of punishment because of it. Instead of reacting with violence, Atticus walks on, wiping the spit from his glasses. That scene, more than any other, shows that Atticus is not going to allow anyone, even someone who spits upon him, to make him act like less than a gentleman. He simply refuses to be debased.
The other interaction with people that really demonstrates the type of person Atticus is comes in a scene that is not even shown on camera. After Tom’s conviction, Atticus could have gone home and taken a much-deserved break. Tom’s family was in the courtroom and knows that he has been convicted. They do not need Atticus to visit in order to tell them about the conviction. However, Atticus does not neglect this family in need. Instead, he goes out to their house to tell them about Tom. He does it, not because it is his job, but because it is the compassionate thing to do.
While so much of Atticus’ character is revealed by his actions and his interactions with others, it would be impossible to ignore the impact that Atticus’ words have on the creation of his character. Almost all of his words give insight into Atticus’ thoughts, so they will be used to describe both what Atticus is thinking and what type of information he chooses to relay to others.
His thoughts show a quiet, deliberate, fiercely intelligent man who thinks it is wrong to harm others. He wants to raise his children not to fear the world, but also not to go about in ignorance of the ugliness in the world.
One of the most telling things that Atticus says is found in the quote in which he reveals how the movie got its title. Speaking to Scout about a gun that he has, Atticus reveals:
I remember when my daddy gave me that gun. He told me that I should never point it at anything in the house. And that he’d rather I’d shoot at tin cans in the backyard, but he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted, if I could hit ’em, but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbirdWell, I reckon because mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in the corncribs, they don’t do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us (Mulligan).
With this quotation, Atticus is revealing that he learned his decency from his father. Moreover, he is revealing that, from a very young age, he was taught that it is a sin to kill something innocent. How could a man who learned, from a young age, that it was a sin to kill an innocent, sit back and watch Tom Robinson be executed for a crime he did not commit? He could not. This quote helps explain Atticus’ background and his modern-day motivation.
Atticus also seems able to empathize with people more than most people are able to do so. Rather than making judgments about people based on his perspective and experiences, he seems to try very hard to consider their perspective. He explains this to Scout, telling her, “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point-of-viewUntil you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” (Mulligan). With this insight into how Atticus approaches the idea of empathy, one can understand how he can represent Tom Robison without hating Mayella Ewell, which is something even the audience finds difficult. Here is a woman who has wrongly accused a man of rape, an accusation that could literally cost him his life, and yet Atticus does not appear to judge her.
Atticus explains to the jury why he does not condemn Mayella. His explanation makes it clear that he believes it is the entire system of racial oppression that is responsible for Mayella’s false accusation, not just the maliciousness of a single girl. He describes Mayella’s actions to the jury in the following manner, not only explaining his thoughts, but how he perceived Mayella and the entire Jim Crow system:
She lied in an effort to get rid of her own guilt. Now I say guilt, gentlemen, because it was guilt that motivated her. She has committed no crime; she has merely broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society. A code so severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our midst as unfit to live with. She must destroy the evidence of her offense. But what was the evidence of her offense? Tom Robinson- a human being. She must put Tom Robinson away from her. Tom Robinson was for her, a daily reminder of what she did. Now what did she do? She tempted a Negro. She was white, and she tempted a Negro. She did something that in our society is unspeakable. She kissed a black man. Not an old uncle, but a strong, young Negro man. No code mattered to her before she broke it, but it came crashing down on her afterwards (Mulligan).
Atticus Finch is one of the most memorable characters in all of film. His looks are unassuming, and his speech quiet, at most times. Even when provoked, he failed to respond to people with ugliness or viciousness. Instead, he tried to treat all people with basic dignity and respect, while asking others to do the same. Gregory Peck did a fantastic job of translating the character of Atticus Finch to the screen. In his quiet portrayal, Peck conveyed the idea that every man could challenge himself to have the greatness of someone like Atticus.
Up to this point, the author has only considered live-action characters in this discussion of film characterization. However, live-action characters are, necessarily, limited by the ability of finding actors to play the roles. Some roles are simply too far from human for a human to portray them. There are many modern-day technological alternatives for when a role cannot be filled by a live human, from the use of computer graphics to the extensive use of special-effects type makeup. However, the oldest way to the represent something outside of the realm of humanity in a movie is in the cartoon. While cartoons are generally considered something for children by modern audiences, cartoons were a Hollywood staple for many years, especially in the 1940s. No movie references this period of animation more honestly than the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, a live-action/cartoon mix up that takes the premise that cartoons were living, breathing actors featured in those films. and, while Who Framed Roger Rabbit had its share of memorable cartoon characters, the one that got the most attention was Jessica Rabbit.
While appearance plays an important role in the characterization of any film character, it takes center-stage when one considers an animated character. After all, with animated characters, the appearance can be anything the animator desires. In the case of Jessica Rabbit, the animator obviously wanted to create a sexpot vixen, so over-the-top that she would hardly be believable. Though she has the surname Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit is a human-based cartoon. She is tall for a woman, much taller than her husband Roger, and taller than the detective who is investigating her. In human terms, she would probably be close to six feet tall. She is incredibly voluptuous, with large breasts, an impossibly small waist, and an hourglass figure. Jessica is constantly dressed like a vixen. She wears a sparkly red dress, which reveals cleavage on top and shapely legs on the bottom. She wears elbow-length purple gloves, and sparkly red high heel shoes. She has long red hair, big pouty red lips, green eyes, and smoky purple eye makeup. She is definitely drawn to convey the image of a sexually alluring woman (See generally, Zemeckis). This aspect of her character is one that has endured, with Jessica Rabbit consistently being named one of the sexiest cartoon characters, a field that has surprising competition.
Jessica’s sexpot characterization is not limited to her physical appearance. Kathleen Turner, an actress with a notoriously husky voice, is the human chosen to provide the voice for Jessica Rabbit. Jessica consistently speaks in a husky-voiced almost whisper. Sometimes she sings, and when she does it is in a voice as seductive as her speaking voice, though slightly less husky.
Jessica also acts the role of the sexpot. She is clearly aware that she is an attractive character. For her to act unaware of that appeal would seem disingenuous, so her awareness of her appearance does not make her appear fake or false. However, there are certain assumptions that people make about beautiful women, even if they are cartoons, and these assumptions contribute to the characterization of Jessica in the early part of the movie. The audience is introduced to her when she is singing in a cabaret for cartoons, and she uses her feminine wiles and her body to seduce the audience during her performance. She shows no compunction or hesitation about doing so, and the audience is left to assume that Jessica is comfortably aware of the power of sex appeal. Though the character was drawn before Anna Nicole Smith really came on the scene as a sex symbol and well before she married an aging millionaire, when Jessica is courted by the wealthy head of one of the Hollywood studios, the characterization is of a very predatory attractive woman seeking to land a wealthy man.
The predatory aspect of Jessica’s behavior seems to become clearer as the movie continues. She plays patty-cake with a man other than her husband, sending Roger into a downward spiral because his wife is stepping out on him. She comes to Eddie looking for Roger, and seems to threaten Eddie when she does so. She forcibly kidnaps Roger, bonking him over the head with a frying pan. She is at the scene of a murder, and is presumably the one to have committed the crime. All of these factors certainly suggest a predatory woman who has hurt Roger and is only going to continue to hurt him if she is not stopped.
However, the character of Jessica Rabbit serves as a caution to the audience, that sometimes one’s first judgments are not accurate. Jessica is not the villain in the movie. Throughout the movie, she is honest with Eddie. However, Eddie is so distracted by Jessica’s appearance, and his preconceived judgments about her that he fails to listen to her. For example, Jessica tells Eddie, “You don’t know how hard it is being a woman looking the way I do” (Zemeckis). Instead of listening to what Jessica is saying, and trying to put himself in her position, Eddie makes some response about it being hard being a man, looking at a woman, looking the way she does. She gives him the insight he needs into her character, but he chooses to ignore it.
Jessica also tells Eddie, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way” (Zemeckis). She is aware that people will see her appearance, which is sexual but not malevolent, and make certain assumptions about her morality based on that appearance. That phrase bears some consideration as one considers the character of Jessica Rabbit. She is approached to set someone up for blackmail. She tells Eddie as much, revealing, “You didn’t catch me, Mr. Valiant. You were set up to take those pictures” (Zemeckis). The audience might wonder why Jessica did not go to the authorities and say what was happening, but her awareness that people would assume malevolence based on her appearance explains that apparent discrepancy.
That is not to suggest that Jessica’s character was a wholly innocent one. On the contrary, Jessica could be pragmatic and take steps to protect herself and Roger, and was not overly concerned with who else might be hurt by her actions. For example, she kidnaps Roger, and she does so forcibly. She is not going to be bothered to take the time to explain what is happening to him, instead just taking the action. She explains it this way, “I hit him in the head with a frying pan and put him in the trunkso he wouldn’t get hurt” (Zemeckis). Examining this statement seems ludicrous and pointless if one keeps oneself in a live-action world. However, Jessica does not live in a live-action world. She is a cartoon character, as is Roger. While he feels pain, he is not going to have any permanent injuries from her hitting him on the head with a frying pan. Therefore her statement, which would be absurd if her husband were not a cartoon, makes sense.
In fact, what becomes apparent by the end of the movie is that Jessica is one of the few characters in the movie who is consistently honest, in both action and word. She says that she loves her husband and is trying to protect him, and that is exactly what she does throughout the movie. She actually proves the point that the audience, as well as the other characters in a movie, should not let a single facet of characterization form their entire opinion of a character. When they do, they can miss critical elements of that person’s character.
If Verbal Kint were as honest as Jessica Rabbit, he might say, “I don’t look bad, but I should be drawn that way.” That is because if there is a more duplicitous character in all of modern film than Verbal Kint, the author has yet to encounter him. Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Verbal Kint is so full of carefully nuanced subtlety, that there is nothing of caricature in the character, only what seems like a completely honest portrayal of the character. This openness and honesty in the character is made even more striking when one considers that the character, Verbal, is a totally dishonest man. He weaves an incredible and outrageous lie for the authorities; a lie that is made all the more believable because it is based upon the fiction that the villain, Keyser Soze, might be Keaton. Instead, by the end of the movie it becomes clear that Verbal Kint is Keyser Soze, and that not only has Soze managed to pull off a major robbery, but has also killed his accomplices, exacting justice for slights they had done him in the past, and almost any person who could implicate him, in the process.
Verbal Kint’s appearance is that of a harmless man. Kint is played by Kevin Spacey, a physically unimposing actor, who is smaller than the other men in the movie. Spacey is dressed not only plainly, but somewhat nebbishly throughout the movie. He is not a man who would garner a second glance in any location, and his clothing, while not extravagant, is neutral enough to blend in to almost any environment. He has brown hair and brown eyes. He is of an unremarkable height and an unremarkable weight. In fact, Verbal Kint could define the term “non-descript.” Furthermore, Kint appears to be crippled, a characteristic that makes him even more invisible in modern society.
His interactions with others continue to suggest a man who is comfortable in a background role. Verbal is a planner. Like the other men, Verbal has supposedly been rounded up under suspicion of committing a heist. He is one of the usual suspects in a lineup of men that share no real physical characteristics. Together the men plan a job to get revenge upon the police. They then decide to take a second job after selling loot to a fence. The job leads them to an attorney, Kobayashi, who claims to work for Keyser Soze and blackmails the men into destroying the cargo in a ship coming into San Pedro harbor. Kint’s subservience and apparent disability put him at a physical disadvantage, when compared to the rest of the men. Keaton, the de facto ring leader of the group, tells Verbal to stay back instead and watch events unfold.
The problem with all of the action is that, though it is presented in flashbacks, anything not happening in the present day, the day of Verbal Kint’s interrogation, is being told from Verbal’s point-of-view. He is the narrator, and, the audience has to determine whether he is trustworthy. There is certainly nothing about his physical appearance to indicate that he is not trustworthy. True, Kint is a known conman; however, the audience knows that he has been given immunity in exchange for his cooperation with the police, so there is little reason to think that Kint is lying. Of course, much of Kint’s story is a lie, but he does do a good job of characterizing Keyser Soze, his alter-ego. The only problem is that the police have no idea, at that time, that Kint is Keyser Soze. In fact, at that time, the police do not even have a real reason to believe that Keyser Soze is an actual individual. However, it is important to realize that Kint gives the police a huge clue at the beginning of the interrogation, one that they choose to ignore because they are not looking at the possibility that Kint is behind the crime. They are so focused on the idea that Keaton is the mastermind, that they simply ignore the possibility of Verbal having greater involvement. Kint, on the other hand, seems to enjoy toying with them. He tells them, “It didn’t make sense that I’d be there. I mean, these guys were hard-core hijackers, but there I was. At that point I wasn’t scared; I knew I hadn’t done anything they could do me for. Besides, it was fun. I got to make like I was notorious” (Singer). He is outright telling the interrogating officers that there was no reason for him to be in the room with the other four, dead, criminals. They do not pick up on the hint. This is part of Kint’s character; toying with people, flirting close with the edge of disaster.
What are the things that Kint tells the audience about Keyser Soze? First, he tells the police that the pressure to release Kint is coming from Soze. He asks:
Where’s your head, Agent Kujan? Where do you think the pressure’s coming from?
Keyser Soze- or whatever you want to call him- he knows where I am right now. He’s got the front burner under your ass to let me go so he can scoop me up ten minutes later. Immunity was just a deal with you assholes. I got a whole new problem when I post bail (Singer).
What he is basically telling them is that he knows Soze is still alive.
He goes on to reveal more information about Soze:
Who is Keyser Soze? He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, poof. He’s gone (Singer).
Kint’s stories about Soze lead Kujan to the assumption that Keaton is Soze, though Kint never directly says that. However, he is bold; he tells the police that he is going to disappear when he is released from the police station. Not only does he describe his own shadowy past, but he tells them exactly what he is going to do in the future, “You think you can catch Keyser Soze? You think a guy like that comes this close to getting caught and sticks his head out? If he comes up for anything, it will be to get rid of me. After that… my guess is you’ll never hear from him again” (Singer).
What is fascinating is that Kint cannot help but describe his own prowess to the police. Of course, he is telling the police about Soze, apparently confident that they will not assume that he is Soze, but he tells a number of revealing things about himself. He says, “then he showed those men of will what will really was” (Singer), suggesting that Soze was more willful than anyone a man would otherwise encounter. He also says, “Keaton always said, ‘I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of him.’ Well, I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze” (Singer). Is this more puffery, or is this Kint’s way of saying that he is afraid of his alter-ego? After all, Kint’s descriptions of Soze’s prior actions are horrifying. Soze kills his own family in front of a Hungarian mobster who was part of a group trying to get to him through his family. According to Kint:
He lets the last Hungarian go. He waits until his wife and kids are in the ground and then he goes after the rest of the mob. He kills their kids, he kills their wives, he kills their parents and their parents’ friends. He burns down the houses they live in and the stores they work in, he kills people that owe them money. And like that he was gone. Underground. Nobody has ever seen him since. He becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. “Rat on your pop, and Keyser Soze will get you.” And no-one ever really believes (Singer).
Therefore, Verbal’s admission that “a man can convince anyone he’s somebody else, but never himself” (Singer) could be taken as some type of regret for the things that he has done in his past. However, his actions certainly belie such an assumption. When Kint is released from the jail, just as the fax of Soze, with a sketch matching Verbal Kint’s physical appearance, is arriving at the police station, he walks out of the jail. As he steps away from the jail, the physical disability disappears. This is not a man with cerebral palsy. More than that, his entire physicality changes. Kevin Spacey lifts his head, expands his chest, and begins to walk with pride. The nondescript Verbal Kint, who was sitting in the jail being interrogated, is gone. In his place is a man who may not look like a criminal mastermind, but is someone who would get noticed twice. In that moment, the character of Soze is revealed.
There are so many components to the making of a good, high-quality movie, but none of them is as critical as characterization of the roles. When an actor ceases to seem as if he or she is acting, and, instead, embodies a role, something transformative happens. The audience tends to forget that they are watching a movie. They become engrossed in the character’s life, beginning to genuinely care about what happens to the character. In a good movie, this feeling lasts for the duration of a movie. In a great movie, this feeling lasts long after the movie ends. People wonder about the character, perhaps asking themselves why someone would behave that way, or maybe wondering how things turned out for the character. It does not really matter what the audience wonders about the character; what matters is that they do. If an audience continue to wonder about a character after a movie has ended, that character has become something greater than fiction. He or she has become a part of the audience’s reality, and that marks the ultimate achievement in characterization.
There are many ways to achieve that characterization in a movie. Direct characterization through the use of a narrator is one way, though an uncommon one, that movies use to flesh out characters. As the above examples demonstrate, direct characterization through a narrator is subject to a variety of flaws. The primary pitfall is that narrators may be lying. The best example of this is in the movie the Usual Suspects. Verbal Kint, the narrator, appears somewhat trustworthy, but he is almost certainly lying about every detail except for the stories he reveals about Keyser Soze.
Likewise, appearance can be very deceiving. In all of the movies described, appearance served as a crucial element in helping establish the character. However, that did not mean that appearance correctly defined the character. Both Jessica Rabbit and Verbal Kint were developed far beyond their appearance, but allowing stereotypes to delineate the entire breadth of the character would have prevented the audience from making crucial discoveries in the plot. Therefore, they served as a good example of how character appearance could actually be used as a plot device, as well as a means of helping describe the character of a role.
Moreover, characters can be deceptive in what they are saying. It is important to examine what a character is saying and how they are saying the words. The emotion behind certain statements can highlight how important they are in the total narrative. This is important when assessing characters in almost any movie, because different motivation and degrees of personal insight are going to cause characters to act in different ways. The reality is that Verbal’s deadpan retelling of such a dramatic story should have been a giveaway that something was not right with him. That is why the audience should not rely solely on what a person is saying, especially if there appears to be a conflict between how a character acts and what a character says.
In fact, it seems clear that the best way to understand a character is to watch his or her actions. Through these actions, one can understand the true motives behind the character. A good person pretending to be bad will end up doing good things, while a bad person pretending to be good will miss seemingly obvious opportunities to help one another. Finally, one cannot ignore the importance of body language. Does a character’s affect seem appropriate for his or her situation? Does the character seem to slip in or out of character? Of course, that could be a result of bad acting, but, if that does not seem to be the case, it is probably a clue as to the character’s true personality. An audience that watches for all of the elements of characterization will be able to understand character long before an audience that is content to rely on stereotypes or snap judgments. In so many cases, those preconceptions are used by directors, screenwriters, and actors to lead audiences astray.
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